Most poker tournaments are played along the same lines — players begins with a uniform amount of chips, the blinds gradually increase as the tourney moves on and players are eliminated along the way until only one person ends up with all of the tournament chips. A large part of the cash prize pool in these tournaments goes to the top finishers but, typically, the top 10% of entrants finish in the money. Hence, if the tournament you are joining has 500 participants, you are likely to place in the money if you finish among the top 50. As a rule, most tournaments are “freezeouts,” which means that any player who loses all his chips cannot return to the tournament.
There are many tournament variants as well and the type of variant will alter the basic strategy of the tournament. Some tournaments junk the freezeout structure, escalate the blinds more quickly, introduce re-buys or have a winner-take-all structure.
The larger tournaments that have 500 or more players are usually turbo tournaments, steps tournaments or shootouts. The following are the strategies for each.
The turbo tournament is very fast and the blinds escalate quickly, usually after every five minutes. There have even been some turbo tourneys where the blinds rise every two minutes. Luck tends to play a larger role in this tournament than in others. There will be minimal post-flop play since players tend to be forced to go all-in pre-flop or fold. It is important to be aggressive in this type of tournament. If you are passive, the blinds will quickly use up your stack. The best strategy is to try to steal a lot of blinds and hope that Lady Luck is on your side.
The steps tournament usually involves five steps. Winners of the early steps advance to the later rounds while losers move back a step or have to pay a new entry fee. Prizes are only awarded at the final step.
For these tournaments, it’s important to note the prize structure because some online poker rooms try to extract a lot of entry fees from participants in these steps tournaments. Look for a steps tournament that rewards players by advancing them to the next step or penalizes players by eliminating them altogether without further buy-ins. Otherwise, assume the strategy of a single-table tourney.
When about 30% of players advance to the next level, you should play a selectively aggressive game. Try to steal blinds and keep your stack above average. Remember, it’s not the guy with the most chips that advances. But you do have to retain a large chip stack to discourage others from trying to knock you out. If you succeed in stealing blinds, you will have an above-average stack and, as a result, fewer confrontations. When you reach the final step, revert back to you normal single-table tournament strategy.
In shootouts, which are similar to steps tournaments except that shootouts are a single event unlike steps tourneys where players that advance can decide to play the next step at a later date. The strategy in shootouts depends on the tournament structure. If only a single player advances to the next round, you must be very aggressive in your play and take plenty of risks. If several players advance, adopt a selective aggressive approach. Try to maintain a decent-size stack to discourage attacks from opponents and try to steal as many blinds as possible.